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Mormon America - Revised and Updated Edition: The Power and the Promise Paperback – October 9, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Mormon America: The Power and The Promise by Richard N. Ostling and Joan K. Ostling, grew out of a 1997 Time magazine cover story called "Mormon's Inc." One of the reporters on that story, Richard Ostling, became so fascinated by Mormonism that he set out to write "a candid but non-polemical" overview of the Church, beginning with its founding by Joseph Smith Jr. in 1830 and continuing to the present day. The resulting book is a marvel of clarity, organization, and analysis.

For statistical reasons alone, the Mormon Church demands a reader's attention: in just 170 years, the Church has grown from six members to more than 10 million; if current rates of growth continue, membership could hit 265 million by 2080, which would make it the most important world religion to emerge since the rise of Islam. Mormon America clarifies the reasons for the religion's rapid growth: "It was from the beginning optimistic and upbeat, a reaction against the establishment New England Calvinism.... It was a religious version of the American dream: Everyman presented with unlimited potential." The book also investigates the Mormons' immense wealth (relative to size, this is "America's richest church, with an estimated $30 billion in assets and something like $6 billion in annual income, mostly from members' tithes.") It anatomizes the minutiae of Church governance (Mormonism is ruled by a self-perpetuating, all-male hierarchy, headed by a "President, Prophet, Seer, and Revelator"), details the many rules that govern the Mormon lifestyle (famously, they avoid caffeine and alcohol; the Church's mandates extend even to the proper technique for "dispos[ing] of worn-out holy underwear"), and summarizes the Mormon scriptures. Mormon America is a compulsively readable book, not only for its insightful analysis and wealth of factual information, but also, and most importantly, because it respects its subject rigorously. "This is a real faith," the Ostlings write, "and must be understood in those terms, without caricature." --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This account of the history and current situation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is better than its cover would lead one to believe. Packaged as another sensationalist expos? of Mormon economic and political power, with chapters promising to unlock "The Power Pyramid" and "Rituals Sacred and Secret," the book is in fact generally well-balanced and often insightful, particularly on matters of race and gender, and draws upon a number of recent studies by Mormon scholars. (The authors, a well-educated husband and wife team with copious journalistic accolades between them, describe themselves as "conventional Protestants.") Their erudite chapter on Mormon theology sheds light on a fascinating but neglected subject (even by Mormons), and they sensitively portray what is at stake in the telling of Mormon historyAa controversial undertaking nowadays due to the recent excommunications of some high-profile Mormon historians. Yet in its effort to provide a one-stop panorama of Mormonism, the book seems a bit of a hodgepodge at times (the authors evaluate the authenticity of Joseph Smith's revelation in one chapter and catalogue "Great Mormons of Sport" in another). Although the Ostlings say they hope to profile the "multidimensional" character of Mormonism, and they include chapters on Mormon family life and dissent, this is very much an institutional account, focusing on the "very controlled...very top-down" leadership of the church rather than on the mass of believers. Finally, while the authors attempt to be "nonpolemical," their close attention to the church's financial assets cannot help but hint of conspiracy theory. (Why does no one write books on "the Episcopalian empire"?) While this book is undoubtedly the best introductory snapshot of the Mormon world available in print, there is still room for improvement. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 504 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Revised ed. edition (October 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061432954
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061432958
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #569,563 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I echo the reviewers remarks in the dust jacket of the book, that the only objective review of Mormonism must be written by someone from outside the Church. Many Mormon reviewers struggle with this book, but I think it is essential that they remember one thing...IT WASN'T WRITTEN FOR YOU! It was written by non-mormons for the rest of the world who look in at the church and ask, "Just what the heck is going on in there, anyway?" Of COURSE the authors are not going to give the same attention to every detail that believers are going to want to see, because this is a single volume book! Latter-Day Saint theology is complex, has been written about extensively, and it takes a serious student of history and religious thought years and years to gain a complete picture of the church. This book is not a substitute for all that, since the vast majority of folks are simply not interested in that level of detail. The Ostlings have written an overview, a glimpse, at this phenomenon called "Mormonism" with a reasonably balanced treatment from those who are faithful believers, those who are neutral, and those who have an axe to grind. But that's okay, since this is not a book that explores the complexities of Latter-Day Saint doctrine, but rather a book that explores the cultural phenomenon called Mormonism. I especially appreciate their treatment of the recognition that this is a quintessential American Church, and that its appeal is broad for those elsewhere in the world who are either Americanized, or who aspire to be. A strong argument could be made for changing the nickname from the "Mormon Church" to the "American Church," (though I'm sure every other church in America would choke on that one!Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
The best book about the LDS church remains Leonard Arrington and Davis Bitton's 1979 "The Mormon Experience" which is still unmatched in its depth of insight. But if you are curious about Mormons and looking for a readable new book about them this is what you want. Someone has said that every reporter who visits Salt Lake for the 2002 Olympics with be carrying "Mormon America" as a handbook for local culture. That's probably accurate. The Ostlings wrote the recent cover story on the church for TIME magazine and have greatly expanded it for this effort.
Anyone who believes the sterotype of Mormons as brain-dead religious fundamentalists are in for a shock when they read this first-rate journalism. The Ostlings write with great empathy about the complexity of life for people who take religion seriously. The chapters on our intellectual culture are as balanced as anything I've read on that subject. The sections on practice are accurate, too. The Ostlings come very close to revealing what it's like on the inside--they ultimately fail to catch what it really feels like, however, because of the ultimately unbridgeable gap between description and the indescribable faith that lies at the heart of a believer's life. That's not really their fault of course--it's like trying to describe in words what the color "blue" is like. Orthodox Judaism has gotten a lot of respectful attention recently because of the nomination of Sen. Joseph Lieberman for vice-president. Many reporters have revealed a new sensitivity about how devout people live. The Ostling's book should be considered at the forefront of this new attention to the relationship of faith and American culture.
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Format: Hardcover
Mormon America is a well-written, broad description of the LDS Church, its history, its doctrines, and its members. It is also the first quality work on this subject I have seen from non-Mormons that is written for a general audience (Jan Shipps is also good, but writes at a different level). I am myself an active member of the LDS Church, returned missionary, and BYU graduate. I enjoyed the accounts of the elders at work in New York, of the LDS families working to live their religion, and of the new converts embracing the Church, finding in these accounts much that matches my own experiences in the Church.
There are a number of minor errors, but overall I was pleasantly surprised at the accuracy of this work. The Ostlings have obviously dedicated countless hours to research and interviews, and constructed their book with meticulous care. I would recommend it to anyone unacquainted with the LDS faith that wishes to know more about us.
Naturally, the Ostlings do not shy away from controversial topics, the inclusion of which in this book will no doubt upset some Church members. They also seem to feel an obligation to present both the positive and negative aspects of the faith as they see them. They are, after all, both non-LDS and journalists. I am convinced that their book represents their honest attempt at a neutral assesment of the Latter-day Saint religion and its importance in the modern world. There is much here for readers to appreciate, whether or not they share the authors' attitudes toward the Church.
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